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Myth & Sacrifice

The Great Grand Robin Jarvis (Re)Read

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deptford histories

The Oaken Throne | Chapter 2

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Awake, awake,’ they sang. ‘Thy sleep is ended!’

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  There are two kinds of Robin Jarvis fan: those who look forward to Aldertide, and those who look forward to Wendel. I’m not quite sure how, but that stoat jester has wormed his way into the hearts of almost every fan of this book I have ever met, and I can hear you all yelling about him in the comments already. Personally I find him unimpressive, morally questionable, and generally a bit dodgy, but I admit I am in that second category by default if not by choice, as happy little critters singing and dancing in the sunshine has never been my kind of party.

That said, there’s a lot to appreciate about Aldertide. The name alone is graceful, and the concept of the alder maids quite charming. I love that sweet little song they sing to awaken the venerable trees from their slumber, and I’ll be the first to declare Ysabelle the most precious thing on the Green’s good earth. The medieval-maiden hairdo! The tufty ears! Adorable.

The contrast between the joyful squirrelly celebrations and the blood-soaked horror of the bat’s attack is shockingly stark. We have already witnessed the heart of the battle at Greenreach last chapter, but here it becomes personal, as Ninnia and Cyllinus fear for their daughter and discover what dread destiny she has caught in her small paws. With the realm of the Starwife in ruins, the best day of Ysabelle’s life has quickly become the worst.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Ah, we haven’t seen a chapter like this for a while. The feeling of community that we get from these squirrels at Coll Regalis reminds me of the feel of Fennywolde and Deptford (back before they got into serious trouble). Of course, as with all things nice and communal, it’s not long before things get disrupted.

I feel somewhat sad that the bold peregrine who I so admired from the first chapter gets dispatched in this chapter without us ever finding out his name. But it doesn’t matter – whoever he is, he’s got the job done, and Ysabelle’s story has begun.

One thing that was striking about this chapter and the last (ignoring stoats with jester caps for the moment, which is also somewhat hilarious) is that it’s a completely different type of bat than we’ve seen in past Jarvis books. We think of the bats in Deptford as being a bit enigmatic, but ultimately brave and good for a fight when you need them. (Perhaps a bit like Yoda?)

But this stuff with screechmasks and razor-tipped claws is another level of bloodthirsty altogether and a little bit unsettling. However, thinking about it some more, couldn’t we say the same about much of humanity? We can give the illusion of being peace-loving at different periods of time, but the violence of our past (both recent and distant) always reminds us that we can be pretty savage sometimes as well.

The Oaken Throne | Prologue & Chapter 1

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Is what I ask too great?’ he murmured. ‘Is it my lot to be shamed for all time?’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Bats in the sky! Squirrels dying! Horror, tragedy, doom! It’s The Oaken Throne! Who else is excited to start this one? I know I am, this is my second favourite Robin Jarvis book of all time. Verily and forsooth let us get to it, then!

From the very first page, we are dunked head first into the wraith-haunted, benighted gloom of this world. What a wonderfully evocative opening, and what a clever touch that we don’t know that Vesper is a bat until almost two pages after he’s been introduced. That I only noticed on reread, and though I daresay the effect is ruined a little if you’ve already read the blurb or seen the older covers, it’s still an interesting technique. If you went into it not knowing what the story was about, you would assume that it was a human boy who was about to leap from the ruined tower to his death, and as a result feel an immediate connection and pang of sympathy.

As it is, what we might have felt for Vesper the human is directly transferred to Vesper the bat the moment he opens his wings, and before more sceptical readers have a chance to express their disdain for yet another medieval epic with talking animals, we are swept into a medieval epic with talking animals that is like no other.

This is a tale of two contrasting fantasy cultures, and both are excellently set up in these opening scenes. First, we have the mysterious bats, with their unflagging desire to reclaim their birthright of prophecy (those who have read the Deptford Mice Trilogy will grin in wry recognition here). Then, as if that wealth of tradition and fascinating motivations were not enough, we are whirled right along into the leafy domain of the squirrels, and face our first betrayal in the gaunt and rather elegant shape of Morwenna.

In a few short pages, the aged Starwife is dead and the Knights of the Moon under fearsome General Rohgar have the upper hand (or, er, wing). What will become of the silver acorn, and what diabolical plots will Morwenna orchestrate next? Will Vesper ever have a chance to prove himself? Dear readers, we shalt see.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: What an exhilarating opening this is. The opening prologue with Vesper sets up that familiar trope of the hero who wants to go to battle but is too young for the experience, so we can expect a journey of courage for him in the future.

But Chapter 1 is brilliant – a total barn-burner of an intro to the squirrel world. The kingdom of Greenreach is an awesome concept – a bit Rivendell, a bit English castle, a bit decaying Roman empire. We’ve got an evil witch character in Morwenna and a bat raid that becomes the visual equivalent of the WWII London air raids.

But for me, the greatest part is the peregrine falcon. How he came to have a league with the squirrels we don’t know. In fact, the great thing about the Histories is that while technically they are back stories for The Deptford Mice, you could clearly fill many books with the back story behind these histories as well.

A missing silver acorn out there somewhere? Yep, I’m hooked. On to Chapter 2!

Illustration Nominations | The Alchymist’s Cat

Aufwader’s Pick:

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‘Where Dreams and Nightmares Mingle’ (c) Robin Jarvis, 1994

After all the rodents in the Deptford Mice books, it’s very interesting to see some people in this universe. We’ve seen Mr Jarvis’ skill with human facial expression already in The Whitby Witches, but the early illustrations in this book show off what he can do with ink. One detail I really like is how solid this picture is – Mr Balker’s hands on the wooden table top look how a 17th Century miller’s hands would have looked, and his and Will’s drinks look heavy in their tankards. Will’s hair seems realistically in need of a wash, and the posture of the little group even suggests a cramped, dingy space. Plus, we have our first and only depiction of Peggy Blister. Is it just me or do her flying ribbons remind anyone else of Mabb’s headdress?

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‘At the Southwake Mission’ (c) Robin Jarvis, 1994

I really hope Mr Jarvis was referencing the many depictions of Florence Nightingale with this picture. Even though we are in 1665 here, the whole thing has the look and feel of a Victorian tableau, or even an engraving. So atmospheric, and so macabre.

Matt’s Pick:

 

 

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‘Lord Have Mercy On Us’ (c) Robin Jarvis, 1994

There’s something totally surreal about the old plague doctor’s uniforms. It’s never stated in the books, but when you see Molly in uniform, she looks something like a cross between The Fly and an alien stork. Also, the picture appears (at least in my edition) a few pages earlier than the moment when Spittle looks out the window and spots her. So from that perspective, the picture gives us a foreshadowing of what it is that Spittle is seeing. It also marks the turning point where the Black Death has arrived and we realise how dark this story is going to get.

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‘Of Reckoning and Destiny’ (c) Robin Jarvis,1994

And as for this one, what is there not to like? First of all, it’s epic Jupiter, in his absolute prime, breathing fire. What I also love is that we’ve lost all sense of the real world in this one. We know from the book that all of this is taking place in the apothecary’s downstairs room, but there is no sign of furniture or walls to give us any sense of place. So the battle visually takes on a bigger scale than just two magical peeps having a go at each other in a small wooden room. I love it.

Mr Jarvis’ Book of the Dead | The Alchymist’s Cat

Gravestones at Whitby abbey
In this post we record for posterity and remembrance the names of all those who have fallen to the fatal stroke of Mr Jarvis’ pen. Hero, villain, or neither, we honour their sacrifice for the greater good of the story.

The deceased of The Alchymist’s Cat are as follows: 

HARRY   (The Alchymist’s Cat | Prologue) Brave London rat and victim of Imelza’s jaws, now gone to Hobb.

THE GODWIN FAMILY [DANIEL AND SARAH GODWIN, AND THEIR DAUGHTERS, BETH AND ANNE]    (The Alchymist’s Cat | Chapter 1)  The Godwins were sadly taken to the Lord in an epidemic of the smallpox, leaving only Master William Godwin to inherit the family estate. They will be sorely missed by Will and by all who knew them.

MR JOHN BALKER   (The Alchymist’s Cat | Chapter 1 – The Alchymist’s Cat | Chapter 2) Brother to Hannah and father to Margaret, Mr Balker was miller of Adcombe and a trusted friend of Daniel Godwin. On arriving in London he was murdered by Jack Carver, who was himself in the pay of Doctor Spittle.  Mr Balker now rests in peace.

SIR FRANCIS LINGLEY   (The Alchymist’s Cat | Chapter 5 – The Alchymist’s Cat | Chapter 9) This disgraced nobleman took his own life following his humiliation at Court, orchestrated by Spittle. May God receive his soul.

MR AND MRS GOBTROT   (The Alchymist’s Cat | Chapter 5 – The Alchymist’s Cat | Chapter 9) Owners of the raghouse in which Magnus Zachaire’s belongings were deposited following his death. A kindly couple, the Gobtrots were among the first victims of the Black Death. They passed away peacefully together.

IMELZA  [CONSORT OF IMP AND MOTHER TO JUPITER, DAB, AND LEECH]   (The Alchymist’s Cat | Prologue – The Alchymist’s Cat | Chapter 9)  Proud hunter and queen among felidae, Imelza was slain by a mob of human attackers when she attempted to escape captivity. Though she now walks in darkness, her legacy endures.

HELIODORUS  (The Alchymist’s Cat | Chapter 5 – The Alchymist’s Cat | Chapter 10)  An intrepid sea-rat  who ended his days as a victim of Magnus Zachaire’s machinations, Heliodorus beheld the Lord Hobb at the hour of his death. Having undertaken many acts of perfidy and valour throughout his life (the details of which unfortunately died with him) he descended unto the Pit with considerable honour.

JACK CARVER  (The Alchymist’s Cat | Chapter 2 – The Alchymist’s Cat | Chapter 11) Murderer of Mr Balker, aided and abetted by Jessel, Carver was taken by the plague before he could sign his confession. He died in penitence and with a chance of deliverance. May he be forgiven his sins in the next world.

DAB  (The Alchymist’s Cat | Chapter 4 – The Alchymist’s Cat | Chapter 11)  Only daughter of Imelza, sister to Jupiter and Leech. Dab spent her whole life in captivity before being callously put to death by Spittle, supposedly in aid of science. She is remembered mostly for her kind nature and tolerance of her brothers.

DOCTOR ELIAS THEOPHRASTUS SPITTLE [FORMERLY, SAMUEL GODWIN]   (The Alchymist’s Cat | Chapter 2 – The Alchymist’s Cat | Chapter 14)  Apothecary by necessity and alchemist by calling, Spittle’s life’s work was the search for the Philosopher’s Stone and the pursuit of power through the occult arts. He was wise in the ways of both illusion and genuine sorcery, but lacked the impetus to use his skill and learning for good, choosing instead to bend his considerable gifts in the direction of necromancy and other forbidden magics. He was brought low by the Black Death, but, due to the intervention of his familiar, was delivered from the plague and made immortal. Spittle’s ruin came in the form of the reanimate mage, Magnus Zachaire, who succeeded in delivering him unto torment everlasting in Hell.

MAGNUS ZACHAIRE  (The Alchymist’s Cat | Chapter 14)  Alchemist and renowned mage of the Elizabethan era, Zachaire achieved much before inciting the superstition of the populace and being executed by mob rule. His soul was imprisoned by Spittle, a cruelty for which he was revenged by the resurrection of his corporeal body. At the last he chose to return to the oblivion of death, and his name was obscured by time.

JUPITER [SCION OF IMP, PROPHESIED LORD OF ALL]   (The Alchymist’s Cat | Chapter 4 – The Alchymist’s Cat | Chapter 14)  So named by Doctor Spittle, Jupiter was the alchemist’s familiar and eventually surpassed him in might. He would have ascended unto divinity were it not for the treachery of his brother, Leech. Usurped,  Jupiter joined his mother and sister in death, divested of his title and the glory promised him.

MOTHER MYRTLE  (The Alchymist’s Cat | Chapter 11 – The Alchymist’s Cat | Chapter 14)  This kindly matron served the Southwarke Mission all her life, and passed away peacefully at a great age. She contracted the plague soon after opening the doors of the mission to those afflicted, but was miraculously sustained for many months in order to care for the beleaguered victims. May God rest her weary soul.

The Alchymist’s Cat | Chapter 14 & Finale

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘For I am Jupiter,’ he lied. ‘Lord of All.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: The Deptford Histories are, in my opinion, some of Mr Jarvis’ best work to date, and this ending is definitely up there with one of my favourite twists in any novel.

In fact, there are a lot of favourites here. We’ve got the perfect blending of fiction and history with the Great Fire of London as a backdrop for our character’s final reckonings. We’ve got the visceral grotesquerie of Magnus Zachaire’s reanimated corpse clawing its way out of the earth. We’ve got Spittle’s glorious showdown with his familiar, grown mighty and terrible under the alchemist’s own tutelage, and, finally, the bitter clash between Jupiter and Leech.

Once again, Spittle is faced with his own hubris come back to haunt him. It was he who trained Jupiter in the dark arts. Spittle sought the elixir of life that means there can be no true victor of their battle. Spittle hauled Magnus Zachaire from the cold oblivion of the void, incurring his wrath and bitterness and compelling him to seek revenge. The alchemist’s dreadful fate is entirely of his own making, and he pays the price for his arrogance and perfidy in what has to be one of the most nightmarish (and satisfying) death scenes I’ve ever read.

If Jupiter’s birth won the award for Most Grandiose Arrival into the story, Spittle’s death certainly wins Most Outlandish Exit. Dragged into Hell itself by an undead mage, his immortality singed off with his hair, screaming for mercy the whole way? Yikes! That’s some Don Giovanni business right there.

To that glorious epilogue, then. I have a mental image of the dark portal in grainy 2D animation, fathomless and waiting. There are no candles before it as yet, but a shaft of ruddy light falls onto the scene from the distant fire, far above. The thin black shape of Leech crawls in like a spider and begins to purr, and, as the dreadful sound shakes the searing bricks and rattles Becket’s bones, a fell darkness seeps forth and covers the cavern in impenetrable night. In their squalid holes and tunnels, the rats of Deptford go about their business, heedless of the evil that now sleeps among them, unaware that Jupiter, Lord of All, has at last come into his kingdom.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Oh. Yeah. Another out-of-the-park finale. Giant cats, a battle between fire and water (which brilliantly echoes The Deptford Mice books if you’ve read them, or just works well as a story element in this book if you haven’t), a re-animated corpse and the Great Fire of London.

What else could you want?

Except a twist where the cat we thought we knew as Jupiter turns out not to be the Jupiter we thought we knew. (If you know what I mean.) In his final moments, the ‘real’ Jupiter (as I’ll refer to the one in this book) learns to be kind to his brother and gives up his dream of doing magic, only to find that Leech has gone too far down a dark path to give up. What a poignant moment!

At least it seems that Will and Molly will end up okay, with a bit of coin, and a chance to get back to Adcombe. (The only ray of sunshine in what has probably been the darkest Jarvis book so far in the re-read.)

Finally, one fascinating detail that Aufwader and I have been sitting on since we read The Final Reckoning was that in the finale of that book, Jupiter has a flashback where he remembers escaping from his cruel master during the Great Fire of London. And it describes him running through London, having his ginger fur being singed.

Which, of course, is slightly different from how the finale of this book worked out, where Leech didn’t have ginger fur during the Great Fire and was actually rescued by Will, rather than fleeing from the fire himself. So I’m assuming that while Robin always had Jupiter’s origins pegged as being in 1600s London (which would make sense, given that his idea of a nasty plan was to give all humans the Black Plague again) the Jupiter/Leech side of the story was possibly thought up later.

If that’s the case, it’s one of the greatest afterthoughts ever.

Anyway, after this much grimness, I’m ready for a seaside holiday. Who wants to come along for another trip to Whitby? Not much bad stuff could happen out there, right?

The Alchymist’s Cat | Chapter 13

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Thy realm will last for hundreds of years and thy powers shall extend over the whole earth and finally beyond.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Chapter 13 of any Robin Jarvis book is always alight with drama and tragedy, and this is no exception. We get the reveal of Will’s stolen inheritance, Spittle’s (regrettable) recovery from the plague, and finally, Jupiter’s change of heart with regards to his master.

As usual the cassette version I had of this book was abridged, so I unfortunately missed a lot of the finer details of Spittle’s machinations and Will’s subsequent decisions. On reread, I was impressed by Will’s refusal to sink to Spittle’s level. For almost the entire story so far our young hero has endured awful suffering at his captor’s hand, and now we discover that he is not just Will’s abductor but also his only remaining relative.

In this capacity, Spittle takes up his other archetypal role as ‘evil uncle’ and, as we see from his plague-induced ravings, he has been playing that part with aplomb from the beginning. Will has every right to let him die at this point, and the fact that he doesn’t is a turning point and important moment of growth for a character who has spent a lot of his own story reacting to the decisions of others.

When I finally got to read this book in its complete form, I appreciated the tense atmosphere of the scene where Will and Jupiter work to create the elixir of life. There they are in that grody little room, toiling into the early hours to save an evil old wretch who doesn’t really deserve saving. In different ways, both of these characters have had to make the choice to be good, and to see them work together toward a noble goal makes what happens afterwards that much worse.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: This chapter is gripping enough on the visceral level, what with people coming back from the dead, wincing violence against our young hero and the ghoulish finale with the cupboard.

But there are also some nice touches – it finally dawned on me this time that there is a clever parallel between the Samuel / Daniel Godwin relationship and the Leech / Jupiter relationship. (All of which has great mythic echoes – whether intentional on Mr Jarvis’ part or not – with the story of Cain and Abel.)

The only thing that I was curious about was at what stage in the game did Spittle / Samuel get hold of all the gold? Early in the piece, he was always lamenting that he couldn’t afford nice food and clothes. So it’s possible that he didn’t yet have any money at this stage. And then I’m assuming, by the time he had sold the Godwin farm and then come into the wealth he always wanted, by this stage, he was obsessed with a) avoiding the Black Plague, b) trying to create the Philosopher’s Stone and c) creating the Elixir of Life.

Which of course, takes us to one of the oldest tales of all time: someone craves power and riches, but the more power and riches that person gets, the less satisfied they are.

Anyway, one more chapter left to go till the much-awaited reveal of how Jupiter became the terror of Deptford …

The Alchymist’s Cat | Chapter 12

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Then Jupiter revealed for the first time his power.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I absolutely love Mr Jarvis’ creative chapter titles, and this has got to be one of my favourites in the Deptford Histories. I mean, you can’t really get much more majestic than ‘The Fall of Adonis’. In referencing the figure of ancient Greek myth, this title also carries on that classical motif that is behind both Heliodorus’ and Jupiter’s names and which weaves through everything Spittle is about – as a learned man he would be well-versed in the classics and would appreciate being compared to figures of legend, even if, in reality, the comparison were somewhat less than apt.

There’s also a strand of the ridiculous in this chapter. Adonis is most well-known for his premature demise, and many depictions of him in art and sculpture show the titular ‘fall’. It’s difficult for me to find it in my heart to feel sorry for Spittle after everything he’s done, but his eventual undoing is both a brilliant move in terms of character and also one of the most dismal, pathetic downfalls in this entire series. It took no great magic or heroic resolve to defeat Spittle, because at the end of the day he was just too jolly self-absorbed.

On reread I realised that Magnus Zachaire is, in death, actually just the same as he was in life. Despite the grand wisdom he has been granted by crossing over, he is still malicious and manipulative, and doesn’t seem to have taken his earlier promise to turn over a new leaf to heart at all. It’s really quite saddening, and I feel his story is one of the darkest and most hopeless in this book. I shudder to think what may become of Will and our feline characters, should that sinister spectre achieve his goals.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: All the way through the book, it has been well established that Spittle is both terrified of the black plague and dreadfully vain as well. So, of course, it makes sense that when fate catches up with him, it’s a combination of vanity and the plague that cause his undoing. Clever!

It’s also interesting because, despite being the most villainous character in the story, he is not brought down by our hero, Will. (Who actually hasn’t been able to do much at all in this story.) Instead, he pretty much brings himself down – though the manipulations of Zachaire in the background are behind much of the mischief.

But even that is overshadowed by the awesome moment when Jupiter speaks to Will. Up till now, the human and animal characters in the story have been running in parallel, all having their own dramas. But now, Jupiter speaks to Will and draws him into the potion-making. It’s a great twist and a reminder that ultimately this story, despite having so many interesting and varied characters, is ultimately the background story for the Dark God of the Rats, and we’re drawn back to Jupiter and his power.

The Alchymist’s Cat | Chapter 11

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Carver’s days of evil were over and Death seemed to lurk in the shadows nearby, waiting to drag the soul from his failing body.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: This is another of those chapters where we see the entirety of the Deptford universe as one enormous tapestry. In The Dark Portal, the plague had a major role in and of itself, but here we roll back the centuries to glimpse the truth of the evil which Jupiter summoned upon the heath.

Matt said in a previous post that what makes this aspect of The Alchymist’s Cat so frightening is that it’s all historical fact – the pest houses were real, and people like Peggy Blister and Ned Bunkit really did profit from the sickness. I’ve heard historians nowadays describe the Great Plague as ‘apocalyptic’ more than once, and here we get a genuine sense of what that meant for the people of the time. In Will’s figurative shoes, we are treated to a grand tour of the hellscape that the Black Death has made of London, and it makes for evocative and moving reading.

Speaking of moving, how heartbreaking is Mother Myrtle as a character?  There she is, little old lady, probably spent her life in the mission, not a bad word to say about anyone, and dying a slow, painful death. Honestly, it makes you shed a tear. That said, it’s also quite heartening to imagine that among the Spittles and Lingleys of the world, there were folks like Mother Myrtle who did their best to care for the plague victims with the few resources available.

Molly revealing her face in the pest house is one of those scenes that is indelibly etched into my imagination. On reread I was reminded of Henrietta Rae’s ‘The Lady with the Lamp’ – the contrast of the horror of the pestilence with Molly’s angelic image is nothing short of poetic, the kind of scene that could easily become a painting. I wonder if either Molly or Mother Myrtle were inspired by any real historical figures?

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I thought this chapter was brilliant. It steadily moves the plot forward and answers questions about how Will ended up with Spittle from earlier in the book, so if nothing else, it’s intriguing.

But I’m increasingly developing a fondness for ‘Jarvis bit players’ – those characters that make a brief appearance but immediately register in the brain.

In this case, it’s the contrast between the hideous drunken coachman, Ned Bunkit, (another horrific sequence) and the miraculous Mother Myrtle. Myrtle’s kindness and light shine through this chapter, cutting through the darkness. (And that itself is a bit of a theme in this chapter, isn’t it? The light of the lamp cutting through the room or the gleam of Molly’s hair. It’s all light and darkness.)

The Alchymist’s Cat | Chapter 10

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘One day,’ he growled, ‘I shall avenge you, Mother, and all humankind will pay – this I swear.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Molly was one of those characters who I cared deeply about as a young reader. From the moment she appeared in Chapter 4 I loved her, and I didn’t stop loving her even when it looked as if she had treated Will cruelly and abandoned him. I knew there must be an explanation, and here she proved me right. I could talk all day about how great it is that she’s the plague doctor, and how she’s weathered the storms that’ve been thrown her way and carved out a business for herself that allows her to use her learning in a time when women were considered second-class citizens, but I’ll save that for the comments otherwise we’ll be here forever.

This chapter also answers a question that had been bothering me right from the beginning: why did Will never make more of an effort to escape from Spittle’s nefarious clutches? Surely the ruckus over Mr Balker’s murder must have died down enough by then to let Will make a dash for it when Spittle was sleeping? Alternatively, Will must by this time have had suitable knowledge of the shop to know which concoctions might knock the alchemist out for long enough to allow an escape.

At first it seemed to me to make little sense that Will would stick around when the means of getting away is presented to him with every customer who opens the shop door. In Chapter 6, however, the reason dawned on me, and this chapter confirms it. In that chapter, we saw Spittle demonstrate his first real command of the magical arts.

Being a young man of 1665, the Biblical concept of eternal damnation would be as tangible to Will as the promise of ascension to heaven, and Spittle’s necromancy would have cemented beyond doubt that the threat of everlasting hellfire was absolutely real. In this universe, Spittle really does have eyes everywhere, and really is capable of exacting all manner of terrible magical punishments on Will, should he try to leave. Throughout the story Will has demonstrated a wisdom beyond his years despite his rustic upbringing and illiteracy, and here I feel he is actually showing that wisdom again by not acting rashly with regards to his predicament.  Our young hero is aware that his circumstances could change very quickly – the means to get away may still present itself, and he need only be ready to seize it when it arrives.

As a final note: with Heliodorus’ death comes the only direct mention of Hobb we get in this book, but it is a striking one. On tape, that terrible “Hobb is come!” was gargled out in a despairing death-rattle that haunts me to this day. What I’d like to know is whether all Children of the Mighty Three behold a dreadful vision of their patron lords or lady at the hour of their deaths, or if Heliodorus, having done great and terrible deeds in life, was singled out for that dubious honour.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I remember being somewhere between 10-12 years old and reading a Three Investigators mystery. (Does anyone else remember them?) In the course of this mystery, young detective Jupiter Jones made a mention of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express in which he totally spoiled the ending. I never got around to reading the original Christie until maybe 15 years later, and you would have thought with that much ensuing time, I would have forgotten that plot spoiler from my pre-teen days.

Unfortunately, no. As I read the Poirot book, I kept thinking, ‘Oh, I know how this one ends … bummer.’ So I will never know whether the finale of that book would have been considered one of her best endings.

Anyway, all of this is to say, that I was somewhat delighted to find that I didn’t see it coming, even on my third read through, that John Balker was actually in London looking for his daughter. I totally bought the red herring that it must have been some old flame of his. Not only is this a great piece of information to know, the little spark of hope that this offers for Will is a welcome relief from the dark tone of the story. Of course, it’s just a spark, especially with poor old Heliodorus (my favourite of the Jarvis rats) biting the dust at the end of the chapter.

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